30 December 2008

Israel Trip, Winter 2008-2009: Post #2

(Post #1)
On Sunday, we finally had nice weather (it had been chilly up until then (and raining when we arrived)), which coincided nicely with day #1 of our jaunting about Israel.
We took a train out to Tel-Aviv University (my wife's first ever train ride in Israel) to visit the Diaspora Museum, even though both of us had visited it multiple times prior to this visit. We went inside for about an hour and rushed around (since we had been there before). At the outset, the exhibits reminded me of other Jewish museums blending together. Then, in the museum's breaking up of various main diasporean communities, primarily chronologically, it seemed to me to be a refresher of Jewish history of the last two and a half millenia, spanning time and place.
We then departed the museum and hopped back on the train, to head up north to go to Binyamina, where there is a winery and nearby restaurant. We had heard of Binyamina, as their chocolate liqueur is excellent, but hadn't really known about their wine.
We arrived at the visitors' center of the winery, where we graciously were given water upon request, while we waited briefly for their daily 3pm tour in English. While waiting, we looked around at their wines and, more enticingly, at their various yummy-looking liqueurs, of which they had over a dozen. Then our tour began, with another couple besides us along with the tour guide.
We took the tour of the fourth-largest winery in Israel and it was simple and informative. We got to learn about contemporary methods of wine-making (as well as previous kinds). We found out that, although the main building and the grounds had been around since 1925, Binyamina Wines have only been around since 1992. At the end, we had a little wine tasting, with our tour guide showing us how to properly appreciate the wine when tasting it (he said it ought to involve all five senses). Although this was my first ever winery visit, I have, to a minor degree, been interested in wines since having seen Sideways with my family several years back. Even though I had liked wine prior
to seeing that movie, it catalyzed me to appreciate the different types of wine and what about them makes them them.
After the wine tasting, the other couple on the tour had to head off, but we stayed for lunch/dinner and were waited on by our tour guide. For the first course, we were served bread along with over a half dozen different salads. Then came our main entrées: my wife got entrecôte and I got the chicken dish. The meat was definitely quite good and came along with potato slices and some really great-tasting green beans (some of the best I've ever had). Also my meal came with a
complimentary glass of wine, since we had gone on the tour. We thought we were finished, but, apparently, there was still dessert, which was an apple strudel - like thing (they also usually provide coffee, but neither of us are coffee drinkers). Following our dinner, we then purchased some wines and liqueurs and hopped back on the train to Modi'in.

29 December 2008

Behind in Vlogging

I know I'm behind in my weekly vlogging (my last vlog post was a month ago), but I hope to get it back up and going as well as having all of the posts that have been in progress to be uploaded. Anyways, it will be back - just not for another week or two....

Addendum to Thoughts on AJS Conference

Although I had posted already some brief reflections on my attending the Association of Jewish Studies conference, I figured I would share a further few that were on my mind.
One of them is that, being a rabbinical student, people were curious as to what I was doing there (I got a couple of people ask me if I was delivering a paper (although the answer is no, it may be something for me to consider for the future (although someone said I may need to be enrolled in a graduate studies program, so we'll see where I end up - I may enroll in a graduate studies program), although it usually must be either someone with a PhD or ABD)). The answer, for me, is that this was a great opportunity to not only hear the newest papers in the field (okay, for me - I'm mostly interested in Talmud studies, but the other papers were also good to hear), some great ideas being tossed around, and getting to experience a high level of discourse, but also to get to meet the head scholars out there, to ask them questions in a relaxed and open atmosphere, and to get in contact with them to discuss matters further later (or to be made aware of certain significant articles, chapters, or books).
Also, in addition to being surprised at my being at an academic conference, this one was really my second one, having been to one before (although the AJS conference was much larger).
As a continuation from my previous post, the only other blogging done about the conference has been done by Benzion Chinn at his Izgad blog, who followed the first two posts to which I linked in my previous posting about the conference with three further postings: Interreligious Hostility in Medieval and Early Modern Times Part I, Interreligious Hostility in Medieval and Early Modern Times Part II, and Jewish and Christian Learning During the High Middle Ages: Parallels and Points of Contact.

28 December 2008

Israel Trip, Winter 2008-2009: Post #1: Arrival

There was so much to write about my last trip to Israel two years ago and I unfortunately neither wrote/posted about it during the trip, nor much afterwards. However, I will be writing more about this trip (in part, assisted by writing on my iPod (that my wife got me over a year ago and that also assisted me in my keeping track of our honeymoon)).

We took an Austrian Air flight from JFK airport to Vienna, then, after a brief layover, we flew to Israel (by the way, it was my first time flying to Israel on an airline other than El Al). We then got picked up by my wife's brother's wife, who drove us back to the house they are renting for the year, where we got showered up, had pizza for dinner, headed to the mall for a bit, then went back and retired for the evening.

The next day was a Friday, so, since things close on the early side in Israel on Fridays, we decided to just stay in town and walk around, exploring the mall with the older of our two nieces.Then it was shabbas and it was rather restful (I got around 16 hours of sleep, which was good (I think my body was still trying to adjust to the new timezone and to my lack of sleep throughout the flights)).

Following shabbas, my wife and I went with my wife's sister-in-law and her daughter and were around the Talpiyot mall and got pizza at Pizza HaShikmah for 27 shekels (less than $7) - definitely a great deal! Then we went back to the mall, got some pastries, and then headed back with my wife's sister-in-law to Modi'in.

24 December 2008

Brief Reflections on the Recent AJS Conference

Having attended yesterday's sessions and Monday's sessions at this year's Association for Jewish Studies conference, I thought I would follow up with some further reflections. Firstly, the Grand Hyatt, DC had great facilities and, as you can see from their photos, is quite a nice place.
Not surprisingly, my two favorite sessions were on the Talmud: "The Bavli and Its History" and "Rabbinic Terms and Their History" (the latter of which I think I enjoyed more). Granted, I mainly went for, and certainly enjoyed, the papers/sessions on Talmudic/Rabbinic stuff, but I also got some benefit out of having attended sessions not "in my field", so to speak. Also, whether "in my field" or not, I certainly realized I know hardly anything compared to all of these scholars. It was also great to experience the collegiality going on. Granted, when there was schmoozing time, I generally mingled with peers, rather than professors, but I also got the opportunity to talk with top scholars in a laid-back atmosphere. Furthermore, there were times, such as at the Talmudic sessions where someone would be presenting and sitting in the room were various top scholars and it was fascinating to hear some of the discussions going on.
Also, there really isn't much else out there on the blogosphere as of yet, although Izgad posted some thoughts and some quotes from a session he attended. A comment of his (from his earlier posting) resonates very much with me: "It has been wonderful on many different levels for someone with my interests. I cannot think of many of places where I can accidentally run into people whom I know based on having read and admired their books." So true. I would say it was very good not only being able to put faces to names, but also to talk to people and to network, whether about future research interests or to find out about literature out there already.
Additionally, Inside Higher Ed wrote up an article about one of the panel discussions on Monday. I hope to go beyond my brief descriptions in my two previous posts of some of the papers presented to highlight them, although I need to first see if I can get an electronic copy of them.... (Stay tuned...)

23 December 2008

AJS (Association of Jewish Studies) Conference Yesterday

Yesterday, after waking up (having slept in a bed (at a friend of my sister's house) (yay)), I went over to daven at Kesher Israel, which was only a block away from where I was staying. I then returned to the friend's house, where I retrieved my bags and headed back for day 3 of the annual conference of the Association for Jewish Studies (although it was my second day, having only attended the previous day's sessions).
I arrived just in time for the beginning of the first session of the day, where I attended "Ethnography of Jewish Ritual". The first presenter was Seth Ward, who spoke on "The Rise of Tu B'Shevat as a 'Jewish Arbor and Ecology Day': Balancing Themes of Land of Israel, Modern Israeli State, Ecology, and Mysticism", which primarily went through the spurious textual basis for this day and the rise of rituals associated with the day. He said that, "despite all the hoopla," it's not that widespread in synagogue, except for programming for kids or for the ecologically-m
inded. He also spoke of "inpraxation" - new practices for verses. The next presenter was Vanessa Ochs, who spoke on "The Traditional Commitment Ceremony", which was about contemporary homosexual commitment ceremonies (also known as civil unions, same-sex weddings, etc.) and how, when performing these rituals, base these new rituals off of customs. The next paper, "Rethinking Ritual Theory in Anthropology and Jewish Studies: Levinas, Geertz, and the Problem of Meaning", was presented by Don Seeman, who, at the outset, said that, at Jewish studies conferences, people are there and are interested primarily in the content. When at anthropology conferences, people are not necessarily interested in the content, but, rather, the methodologies and ideas. So, when he presents, sometimes people are kind of interested in the content, but he is now trying out talking about theory at a Jewish studies conference. (He also mentioned that hearing the phrase "We do this because..." in a church or a synagogue is a post-Reformation phenomenon, which was interesting.) the last speaker, Irit Koren, spoke on "The Discourse about the Wedding Ritual: Hierarchies of Gender, Knowledge, and Authority". This last paper was on how traditional Jewish feminists who've gotten married in the last ten years (having lived as single women in the UWS-like neighborhoods of Jerusalem) think about their weddings, who deploy various interpretive strategies in order to not feel oppressed at their weddings. These women stop with the obvious, normal ways of thinking about the Jewish wedding because they have an ambivalence about it and feel a need and wish to change the ceremony. Furthermore, they take on a role as active subjects in they are engaging in creating alternative discourses.
The next session I attended was a Talmud session: "Rabbinic Terms and Their Terms". The first presenter was Michael Chernick, who gave a paper on "'Af-Al Pi Še'en R'aiah La-Davar: The Hermeneutic, Its Characteristics, and Their Implications", which was absolutely excellent. The term upon which Chernick spoke, אף על פי שאין ראיה לדבר זכר לדבר, was something about which I've been curious, but have never really invested the time. But beyond just exploring the term, Chernick showed how noth only was this term not used by anyone after the tannaitic period, but that there are implications for how the early amoraim and then, subsequently later amoraim and stammaim interpret Biblical texts and then Mishnaic texts (there was much more in his presentation and I am doing so little justice to it). Next up was Herbert Basser, someone of whom I've never heard, but I found to be clever and hilarious, who presented on "Legal Implications in the Mec
hanics of 'Kulah Rabbi...'", which he said could alternatively be entitled "Extreme Makeover" (I would add "Talmud Edition"). He spoke, among other things on the Obama-ization of the stammaim, taking a tannaitic text in which it is not permissive of a certain action, but then reworking it (through חסורי מחסרא והכי קתני) to actually being permissive of some things (hence, "Yes we can"). The last paper of the session was "The 'Treyf' Pot: How Utensils Came to Require Kashering", presented by David Brodsky, who showed how the Babylonian Talmud came up with the idea of pots being treyfed up by food (or, in other words, there is no such thing as treyfing up a pot until the Bavli came along).
There was then a break for lunch, which I used for schmoozing with peers.
Then the last session of the day and the conference began, for which I attended "Medieval Rabbinic Leadership and Thought". The first paper presented was by Elisha Russ-Fishbane on "Contrasting Leadership Styles: Moses and Abraham Maimonides" (Russ-Fishbane did mention that although, properly, the name Maimonides refers specifically to Rambam, nevertheless, earlier scholars understood it to refer to a family surname, so, for simplicity's sake, he's using it here to also use it with his son, as well). Russ-Fishbane contrasted Rambam's more laissez-faire style of dealing with problematic local liturgical customs (although Rambam went after more serious issues), whereas his son was more proactive in abolishing problematic local liturgical practices. The next presenter, Tirzah Meacham, presented on "Sex for Clarification: Rabbinic Approaches to Anomalous Legal Situations in Medieval Codes
and Commentaries", wherein she spoke upon issues of yibum. The last paper delivered was by Marzena Bogna Zawanowska on "The Holy Writ and Its Authorship in Medieval Karaite Commentaries on the Pentateuch", describing the following: Moses as earthly recorder of the entire Torah, God as the heavenly author of the entire Torah, Moses as selective co-author: omitting as well as adding, compiler-editor other than Moses, Moses an earthly co-author of the Torah, and a scribe-recorder other than Moses.
Following the session, I had a nice and fruitful conversation with Meacham on a topic on which she has written and upon which I've been wanting to write for over two years (I think I need to just sit down and start writing some of the papers I've been wanting to write).
On my way out, I was then asked and acceded to a request to join a minhah minyan, following which I departed in a car, getting a ride and then stopping into Eli's to pick up some food and then we hit the road, although there was a fair amount of traffic and we didn't return to the city until late.

22 December 2008

AJS (Association of Jewish Studies) Conference Today

After having gotten back from the wedding I attended yesterday, I spent the evening at home, prior to departing after midnight for DC, where I arrived this morning for day 2 of the annual AJS conference. When I arrived, I went down to the area where the conference was occurring, except that I was on the early side. However, I spotted to men putting on tallis and tefillin, so I joined them, but found the room to be crowded, plus they were fairly far along in the service, so I prayed in a nearby room.
Afterwards, I chatted with several people, prior to attending the first session. For the first session, I went to the one entitled "A Fearful Assymetry? Interpreting the Bible in Jewish
Sources". The first paper was supposed to be delivered by Michael Fishbane, but he was unable to attend. The first paper that was delivered was by Diana Lipton on "What's in a Name? The Biblical Background of a Talmudic Martyrdom", in which Lipton connected the martyrdom of Haninah ben Tradyon to what went on in Jeremiah. The second paper presented was by Meira Polliack, entitled "The Medieval Discovery of Biblical Narrative", wherein she spoke of the rise of literacy causing people to go back into the Bible and understand it on its own terms, focusing on the work of Yefet ben 'Eli. The third paper was delivered by Mordechai Z. Cohen on "Resolving a Conundrum: Pinning Down Maimonides' Elusive Construal Of the Maxim 'Scripture does not leave the hands of
its Peshat'", which was an excellent presentation. There is a curiosity of Maimonides' usage of the term פשטיה דקרא - basically, when one has already read Rashi's understanding of this phrase and then read this phrase in the Hebrew translation, one is not fully clear how Mainonides is using it. However, Cohen submitted that one should read Maimonides in the original (Judeo-Arabic) because sometimes he uses a different term, indicating obvious or apparent in contradistinction to when he uses peshat in a technical sense. Additionally, it is important to consider Maimonides' cultural context: what Sa'adia Gaon had written and the Islamic jurisprudence.
After the first session, there was schmoozing time (in which I got to meet and talk with Joseph Davis, author of an excellent article, "The Reception of the Shulhan ‘Arukh and the Formation of Ashkenazic Jewish Identity", AJS Review 26 [2002]: 251-276), and then the second session began.
For the second session, I attended the "Hellenistic Jewish Interpretations and Narratives" one. Having lost track of time in schmoozing, I arrived during the presentation of the first paper, "'Joseph and Aseneth': A Very Early Jewish-Hellenistic Romance", was delivered by René Bloch, in which Bloch argued for the book's dating to be during the Ptolemaic period, sometime between 100 BCE and 100 CE. The next paper, "At the Beginning: The Septuagint as a Jewish Bible Translation",
presented by Leonard J. Greenspoon, who spoke about Jewish Bible translations looking back to the Septuagint, which was the first of them all. Next up was Louis Feldman, who spoke upon "The Death of Moses according to Josephus", wherein he said that Josephus "emphasizes his humanity", so that Moses not become deified. The last paper in the session, "The Election of Israel in the Wisdom of Ben Sira", was delivered by Greg Schmidt Goering, who argued for understanding what scholars have previously considered to be oppositional dyads (cf. Ben Sira 33.7-15) to actually consider there to be, in truth, triadic constructions. He points out there are comprehensive dyads (e.g. male/female or whole/blemished) versus noncomprehensive dyads (such as wise/foolish and good/evil) and versus triadic constructions (e.g. wise/naïve/foolish or elect/non-elect/anti-elect).
After session #2, there was an hour lunch break, wherein I wandered about, checking out the books on sale as well as chatting and also ate a little (from the food that I brought).
Then session #3 began, with me attending "The Bavli and Its History". The first paper delivered was "Meta-Systemic Concerns as Indicators of Late-Stage Stammaitic Compositions: The Case of bEruvin 95-96", presented by Jay Rovner, whose main point was to show multiple layering of stammaitic voices. Professor Elman asked a good question on this presentation: Was this later layer slightly later (perhaps even at the sa
me time, just perhaps elsewhere) or was it much later? Rovner's response was tentative, suggesting that it was probably much later. Rovner was very articulate and I'm really excited for his paper to be published, for it seems new and important. Also, Rovner said that the later layer of the stam constructs a coherence where it was not there previously. The second paper was delivered by Barry Wimpfheimer, on "The Bavli as Classical Literature: The Argument from Rhetorical Forms". In this paper, he spoke on forms being important in the Talmud Bavli - I hope to expand upon this in a later posting, as it was really great. The third paper delivered was by Kris Lindbeck on "The Bavli's Redaction of Tradition about the Destruction of the Temple". The last paper of the session was by Ari Bergmann on "The Proto-Talmud and the Stam: The Dual Voice of the Talmud", who argued for either Abaye and Rava or students of theirs who organized "the Proto-Talmud" and then later scholars, the stammaim provided a "fluid, dynamic, interpretative layer" to the earlier layer. He had provided lots of data and statistics to show that Rava and Abaye were in a lot of the Talmud (although, to be frank, that doesn't necessarily prove that they were the first redactionary layer, but I digress).
After a brief break (in which there was more schmoozing and I davened minhah), I then attended the fourth and last session of the day. I went to another Talmudically-related session, "Rabbis and Their Cultural Context(s)". The first paper was "An Iranian Hell in the Babylonian Talmud", presented by Shai Secunda, in which Secunda argued that images of hell and punishment in both Talmudic and Zoroastrian depictions were adapted from Palestinian images. The next paper, "Reishit ha-Bekhorah: Firstborn Inheritance from Mesopotamia to the Mishnah", was presented by Jonathan Milgram. The following paper, "Torah in Triclinia: The Architecture and Iconography of Banquet Halls in Rabbinic Practice and Imagination", was not presented, as it's presenter, Gil Klein, was not here. The last paper presented was "'For the Lord Your God Moves in the Midst of Your Camp': Concentration and Diffusion of the Divine in Qumran and Rabbinic Ritual", presented by Yehuda Septimus.
Following the session, I then stopped into a little reception and schmoozed a little. And that was it for the day and I look forward to tomorrow's sessions.

21 December 2008

Today's Wedding

Today, I attended a wedding of friends of ours, where I was a groomsman. It was the first time I was a groomsman since my sister's wedding 17 months and the second time I've worn my tuxedo (the first being my wedding 16 months ago (and it's been hanging up in the closet the entire time)), although we had to go out last night to buy me a tuxedo shirt (fortunately, Macy's was open from yesterday through Wednesday without closing and has sales going on, so we totally lucked out with that), since I did not have a tuxedo shirt (which I found out when I took my tuxedo out of the closet).
Rabbi Weiss officiated at the wedding and did a splendid job, as usual. It was a nice time and lots of people were there who I knew.
Okay, now I have to get ready to be in DC for the next two days to be at the AJS conference.

18 December 2008

Better Know a Talmudic Phrase II: ואיתימא

Continuing in my "Better Know a Talmudic Phrase" series (introduction & 1st posting), this posting is on the phrase ואיתימא, which literally means "and if you say" or "and some say".1 It is used by the editor to denote alternative amoraim who may have said a given statement. As to its etymological make-up, it is either from ואי תימא - if you say or, alternatively, אית אמר - there is [one who] said.2
Now, the Babylonian Talmud "contains over 750 cases in which alternate attributions (ואיתימא, ואמרי לה and, occasionally, איכא דאמרי, sometimes linked in chains) are given,"3 so what's unique about this particular phrase?
This phrase denotes that
the variant attributions can often be understood as possibilities arising from association, where the memra is attributed to contemporaries who are closely associated, as in the case of R. Yohanan and R. Abbahu (Pes 100a), or when the two names can easily be confused aurally, as in the case of R. Abin and R. Abina (Ber 7a) or R. Ahali and R. Yehiel (‘Erub 12a), or when one element of a name is common to both, as in the case of R. Yose b. Abin and R. Yose b. Zevida (Ber 13a), or R. Levi b. Hamma and R. Hamma b. Hanina (Suk 47a). These alternatives are such as might have occurred in the process of oral transmission, either as an aural error or when one authority had actually quoted the other.4
Fascinatingly, "Rava’s name crops up some 39 times within ואיתימא chains. Of these, 13 involve disciples or associates…. Another 14 involve Palestinian amoraim…."5 Moreover, "Rava is always mentioned first in these chains, and that, aside from disciples and associates, he is never confused with any amora of less than the first rank, one of the two or three greatest authorities of each amoraic generation."6
More generally, these sorts of
variations of attribution are recorded in the same way as halakhic variants – indicating that variants regarding attributions were considered as important as other variants regarding halakhic detail. This is precisely what we might have expected, since the authority of a tradition or statement may often have rested with the amora to whom it was attributed. This would also explain why most variants are recorded in connection with major authorities and their associates, since their authority was greater.7
Again, I hope this posting helps the reader in understanding this term's usage when one comes across it in their studies.

1 - Yitzhak Frank, The Practical Talmud Dictionary (Jerusalem: Ariel, 1991, 1994), 24.
2 - Ibid.
3 - Yaakov Elman, How Should a Talmudic Intellectual History Be Written? A Response to David Kraemer’s Responses, review of Responses to Suffering in Classical Rabbinic Literature, by David Kraemer, Jewish Quarterly Review 89, nos. 3-4 (January-April 1999), 375-376.
4 - Elman, Talmudic Interllectual History, 385-386.
5 -
Elman, Talmudic Interllectual History, 376.
6 -
Elman, Talmudic Interllectual History, 377.
7 -
Elman, Talmudic Interllectual History, 376

15 December 2008

Better Know a Talmudic Phrase I: בעא מיניה

From my post of a week ago, here kicks off my series on "Better Know a Talmudic Phrase". This first post is on the phrase "בעא מיניה". This phrase means "he asked him"1 or, more literally, "requested/required of him". Specifically, it "introduces a problem that an amora posed to his teacher or his colleague."2
As to the amoraim involved, this phrase "and similar expressions reflect a situation in which one amora behaves as if subordinate to the other, yielding to the other’s scholarly and halakhic authority."3 As to how this subordination worked, "throughout the Babylonian Talmud, the age of a scholar was the major factor determining the hierarchical relationship between each pair of amoraim. The younger scholar always conducts himself as subordinate to the older, bowing to his halakhic authority, even if the younger scholar holds a higher position such as head of an academy."4
Often, the "point of the question is generally followed by the interrogative מהו how is it? The two sides of the question are usually set forth by ...או דלמא shall we say... or ...מי אמרינן or perhaps...."5 In other words, the inquiring amora asks regarding a halakhic quandary, wondering which of two options ought to be selected in a given situation, seeing as both are legitimate possibilities.
As to how this problem is solved, the
solution of a problem (the verb is פשט) is introduced by the phrase תא שמע come and hear. When rejected, another solution introduced by the same phrase is generally attempted. The final acceptance of a solution is indicated by the closing phrase שמע מיניה hear it therefrom, i.e., this settles the question, this is the correct solution.6
And when a solution is not found, "it is indicated by the term תיקו it stands (
=תיקום), i.e., the question remains unsolved."7

I hope this posting helps you understand this phrase better in your Talmudic studies.
1 - Yitzhak Frank, The Practical Talmud Dictionary (Jerusalem: Ariel, 1991, 1994), 51.
2 - Ibid.
3 - Avinoam Cohen, "Was Age the Decisive Criterion of Subordination Among the Amoraim?", Jewish Quarterly Review 92, nos. 3-4 (January-April 2002), 279.
4 - Cohen, "Was Age the Decisive Criterion," 310.

5 - Moses Mielziner, Introduction to the Talmud (Cincinnati & Chicago: The American Hebrew Publishing House, 1894), 244.
6 - Ibid.
7 - Mielziner, Introduction to the Talmud, 245.

07 December 2008

Better Know a Talmudic Phrase Introduction

In the study of the Babylonian Talmud, there are various words or phrases that appear that are not so simple. Oftentimes, even if one were to comrehend the word or phrase, there might be a certain way that it is used that one might not necessarily know with recourse to a dictionary.
À la Better Know a District, I figured I would do a series on "Better Know a Talmudic Phrase". It is my intent, within this series (regularity to be determined), to flesh out some of these terms in the Babylonian Talmud.

Interesting Speech: Wimpfheimer on Jury Duty & Shapiro's Article

I just came back from the gym, where I read Barry Wimpfheimer's Rabbi May I? Taking Responsibility for Psak in a Post-Feminist Age that he delivered on 11 February 2007 which was sent my way a few days ago. I wanted to quote a couple of interesting parts of that speech.
The first of which is part of how he starts out his address, speaking on being a juror. I found this interesting, as, although I've never served as a juror before, I did go down for jury duty, but had it postponed until July. So it will be interesting to consider what he wrote regarding jury duty (pp. 2-4):
The practice of American law often operates within what I would call a fallacy of law as truth. What I mean by this is that despite the fact that all the participants in a legal drama are fully aware of the fact that American law is a construct shaped by precedents over a long period of time and subject to the whims of multiple authors and interpreters, lawyers and judges pretend that there is a single entity called “the law.” It is almost as if this law is personified and has agency such that a lawyer can say that “the law” demands that you side with my client or a judge can write that “the law” wants to be fair to all ethnic groups. Even legal academics are not above this fallacy; certain types of scholars will write articles articulating a uniform philosophy of law on the basis of many disparate cases even in different areas of law and different jurisdictions. Sometimes, American legal practitioners are aware of the fallacy under which they operate but employ it because it is productive value and sometimes they are unaware of the fact that it is a fallacy at all.
As a juror in a courtroom, though, one cannot but be affected by the fallacy. Within the courtroom, the jury is socialized to believe that the trial is about the pursuit of a single true and correct ruling demanded by “the law.” Each lawyer turns to the jury and attempts to convince it that the law requires the jury to find for their client or for the state.
In other words, each side presents its case as if “the law” compels the jury unequivocally to find for it. The presence of the presiding judge further socializes the jury into this notion of a single legal truth by occasionally interrupting the proceedings to decide on minor bits of procedure—sustained or overruled.
Thus when it comes time for the jury to reach a verdict, it is possible as a juror to think that the process is like a test in school: there is a correct answer which they are expected to try to figure out. The jury deliberates on the opposing narratives of what “the law” demands before deciding which one is the single truth.
If we reflect on these issues further, though, we can realize that the very process of the trial is evidence that the fallacy of a single legal truth is a fallacy. If each side can frame its case through an interpretation of the law that finds unequivocally for its interests it should be clear to us that the notion of a single legal truth in American law is always just a productive heuristic device.
In fact, if the purpose of the trial would be to determine the correct answer, the American system should eliminate the jury completely. Since the judge is better schooled and usually smarter than the aggregate juror, we would be more likely to get the correct answer if the judge figured it out on her own. If we had a math competition and needed to get the correct answer, would we have the expert teach a novice and have him answer the question or would we have the expert answer the question herself?
What is the purpose of a jury? One purpose is to dissipate some of the power that had historically been located in a judge’s hands. Now if law was just a computation, it wouldn’t so much matter that the law was in one person’s hands; but since determining a legal ruling involves subjectively choosing from among multiple options, there is a significant degree of subjectivity involved in such an act and that subjectivity is dangerously empowering. So the American system relieves the judge of the power to rule and hands that power to a jury of one’s peers. In the course of doing that, the structure of judge and jury makes manifest the distinction between the legal fallacy of a single legal truth and the reality of a subjective determination of a verdict from among multiple options. In other words, while the jury may think that its purpose is to figure out the one true legal answer, the very structure of a jury system testifies to the fact that they have more than one possible choice. Moreover, because the jury system relieves the judge of this subjective choice it places responsibility for that choice squarely on the jurors. This means that whereas the judge through her rulings from the bench contributes to the fallacy of a single truth and to justice as an exercise in figuring out what “the law” requires, the jury symbolizes the fact that a verdict requires someone to take responsibility for multiple options within the law. The trial jury embodies the taking of responsibility for a legal choice.
A juror’s responsibility is no light matter. Jurors must weigh the evidence and bear in mind that a decision to convict could ruin a man or woman’s life, while a decision to acquit could have disastrous consequences for the community. It is sometimes easier for jurors to think of their role as determining “the law” as truth so that they do not have to feel the responsibility of their choice. But when you issue a mixed verdict that puts worldly realities at odds with legal truths, the burden of one’s responsibility is often too much to bear. My fellow jurors turned to the judge because they wanted him to reassure them with the voice of law as truth that they had done good, but also because they wanted to share or dump the responsibility for their choice back on the judge.
Another piece that was interesting, relates to the issue of women's aliyot and Rabbi Mendel Shapiro's piece thereon (pp. 14-15):
When Rabbi Mendel Shapiro wrote his original article on the topic, he wrote it along the lines of a contemporary American Law Review piece which only exacerbated his attempt to construct a single-truth argument permitting the practice. Along the way, Shapiro wanted to argue that every layer of Jewish law—rabbinic, medieval, modern—can provide support for the practice. In my opinion, though the piece is excellent, this type of argument opens itself up for critique—a critique that has recently emerged. Several articles have now come out in response to Shapiro and much of the critique has focused on a specific reading of a certain Rishon or Aharon. In my view, though, such attacks miss the point. Shapiro’s article provides a wide audience with access to the knowledge necessary to take responsibility for its practices. One need not satisfy every halakhic opinion; the existence of rabbinic texts justifying the practice allows a community to take responsibility for its own practices and follow that position. Because the counter-argument cannot eradicate all support for participatory minyanim, they do not pose a challenge to their continued implementation.

04 December 2008

New Gym Rates at J's Big Gym in Washington Heights

When I went to the gym on Sunday, I was made aware that since my gym membership was expiring in two weeks, it would be good to renew my membership then, as the rates were going to go up the next day, 1 December.
So, for those interested, the new membership rates at J's Big Gym that went into effect a few days ago, see below (for the old rates, see here):

New member: $398
Renewal: $299
6 Months: $260
3 Months: $150
1 Month: $65
1 Day: $12